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Surf4wine - Glossary of wines
Category: Food and Drink > Wine
Date & country: 13/10/2007, UK
Words: 168


Acid
Used as an adjective to describe sharp or sour flavours. Acidity is a vital component of wine: it helps red wines keep their colour and gives white wines their balance. Too much acidity, and a wine is tart and unpleasant; too little and the wine is 'flabby' and uninteresting. Grapes start out with high concentrations of organic acids which then disappear as the grapes ripen; consequently, in warm regions it is common practice to add acids to the unfermented grape juice to counter the lack of them in the grapes. In contrast, winemakers from wretchedly cool areas, such as parts of Germany and the UK, often have to deacidify.

Ageing
Wine is one of the few foodstuffs that can improve with age, and this is also one of its key fascinations. The longevity of different types of wine is a complex and inexact science: real wine bore territory! Given good cellaring conditions (cool, stable temperature is key among these) fine red wines will improve for many years after release, as will Vintage Ports and certain sweet and dry white wines; indeed, some wine styles (such as classed growth clarets from a good vintage) only begin to show what they are capable of after a decade in the cellar. But most everyday wines are best drunk on release.

Albariño
A winner. The popular, thick-skinned white grape grown in Galicia, northwest Spain, and also over the border in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal (where it is called Alvarinho).Flavour profile: Makes fresh, aromatic wine, with peachy, floral and spicy notes.Where to find it: Galicia, particularly Rias Baixas (expensive but good quality) and in some of the better Vinho Verde wines from Portugal.

Alcohol
Commonly used term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, C2H5OH. It is the product of the fermentation of sugars by yeast. It doesn't taste of anything, but has profound biological effects, which most wine drinkers are no doubt familiar with. As well as the acute effects of alcohol on the nervous system (i.e. drunkenness), the products of alcohol metabolism also have effects on the body. The pathway of alcohol metabolism in the body involves the progressive oxidation of alcohol to acetate via acetaldehyde, the toxic molecule largely responsible for hangovers.

Alsace
Don't be put off by the shape of the bottle! Alsace, in northwest France, produces some delicious full flavoured white wines from grape varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Tokay Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner. Although these wines aren't cheap, they are generally good value because quality is often high. This is the only region of France that routinely labels wines by grape variety.

Appelation Controlée
The French are great beauracrats, and a wine with Appelation Controlée (AOC) on the label will have had to have met a whole host of regulations regarding grape variety, maximum yield, minimum ageing and so on. However, this doesn't mean that what is in the bottle will necessarily be of any real interest.

Argentina
Ranking fifth in the list of global producers, Argentina produces a lot of wine, most of it destined for the thirsty locals. As the attention of producers has turned to the more fussy export markets, there has been an increased planting of better varieties and a general increase in quality. Watch out for gutsy reds from the Malbec grape, which thrives in Argentina, and also aromatic whites from the indigenous Torrontés variety.

Astringent
Unflattering tasting term describing an unpleasant, dry, mouth-puckering sensation usually caused by excess acidity or bitterness. The excessive tannins in young, overextracted red wines are the usual culprits.

Auslese
German term that means literally 'selected harvest'. It is one of the sweeter official quality levels in German wine. To reach the legislated sugar level, individual bunches of very ripe -- sometimes botrytis affected -- grapes are selected at harvest time. The wines usually taste rich and sweet, but some trocken Auslese wines are fermented to dryness.

Austere
Wine-buff speak for a wine that is a bit too severe or restrained on the palate. Usually uncomplimentary, although some young wines destined for greater things may be 'austere' in their youth. Commonly used to describe young clarets.

Australia
The last decade has been boom-time for the export-driven Australian wine market. Australia produces approachable, full-flavoured and good value wines that have taken the UK market by storm. One of the keys to this success has been Australia's ability to produce reliable, fruity, full flavoured wines in industrial quantities, while at the same time small producers concentrating on quality have made world class wines exhibiting true regional character. Of the red grapes, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon hold pole position, and of the whites, Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling all do well. Leading quality regions include the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, Margaret River and Mount Barker in Western Australia, the Yarra Valley and Rutherglen in Victoria, and the Hunter Valley and Mudgee in New South Wales. Although prices have been creeping up over the last few years, Australian wines are still hard to beat for value.

Austria
Austria makes some excellent dry white wines from Riesling, Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay grapes. Despite their quality, these wines are poorly known abroad, mainly because of the healthy local demand. The Neusiedlersee region also produces some stunning sweet white wines that are usually affected by noble rot.

Balanced
A wine is balanced when all the component parts, such as tannins, fruit, acidity and possibly sweetness, are correctly matched and in harmony, and none stands out inappropriately. It's a bit of a subjective call.

Barbera
Where it comes from: Useful red grape that hails from the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, where it plays second fiddle to the noble Nebbiolo variety.Flavour profile: Makes high-acid wines with sweet and sour flavours of cherries, plums and damsons.Where to find it: Grown throughout Italy and also makes gluggable, fruity wines in California, Australia and Argentina. It has the virtue of retaining good acidity even in warm climates.

Barrel fermentation
The process of fermenting grape juice in small oak barrels. Especially when the barrels are new, this can add complexity and oak-derived flavours to the finished wine. Normally done with white wines only (because red wines are fermented together with the skins, pips and sometimes stalks: gunk which would be hard to remove from a barrel), and commonly precedes ageing in oak. Somewhat counterintuitively, wines that are fermented and aged in oak pick up less apparent oak flavours than wines that have only been aged in oak.

Barrique
A 225 litre small oak barrel of the type originally found in Bordeaux, but now used throughout the world. When barriques are new they add a pronounced flavour to the wine, and even old barrels will have an affect on the wine through exposing it to small quantities of oxygen.

Bâttonage
See Lees stirring

Beaujolais
A pretty region just south of Burgundy, Beaujolais makes fresh, fruity but sometimes rather simple red wines from the Gamay grape. The widespread use of the winemaking technique carbonic maceration helps to preserve the fruitiness of the wines. The image of Beaujolais has been somewhat devalued by the flood of largely thin, dull Beaujolais Nouveau that hits our shores in the November following the vintage, but at their best these are fun, joy-filled wines for early drinking.

Beerenauslese
Believe it or not, some wine producers go through their vineyards and select individual grapes to make wine from; Beerenauslese is the German term used to describe this, and means literally 'selected berries'. These grapes will be over-ripe, and usually affected by botrytis. This rather fanatical practice results in luscious, complex and very expensive sweet white wines. A similar selection is carried out by the better producers of botrytised wines in the Loire and Sauternes regions of France.

Biodynamism
It is surprising that Biodynamism has become so widely accepted in wine circles, because the underlying principles are extremely weird. Biodynamics is a sort of highly refined version of organic agriculture blended with loopy, semi-occultic spiritual principles, and it has been adopted by a number of high profile wine growers such as Lalou Bize-Leroy of Burgundy and Nicolas Joly and Noel Pinguet of the Loire. It is based on the teachings of an Austrian eccentric, Rudolph Steiner, who began the movement back in the 1920s, and vineyard interventions are governed by such factors as the alignment of the planets and position of the moon. Bizzare liquid applications and the 'ashing' of pests are other aspects of a such regimes. However, although these principles contravene just about every known scientific law, biodynamic producers seem to make some excellent wines. No one knows why.

Bleeding
A clever winemaking trick often used by quality conscious producers, known also by the French term of 'saignée'. Red wines gain their colour and tannins from the contact between grape juice and skins during fermentation. So in order to increase the ratio of skins to juice, some producers 'bleed' off some of the juice before fermentation. The juice removed in this fashion can be used to make rosé wine with, because it will be slightly pink.

Blind tasting
Opinions are divided about the value of this practice, which involves tasting a wine without knowing its identity. Many consider it to be the fairest way of assessing a wine; others think that wines need to be assessed in light of their background, and that this context is important . Single-blind tasting is when you know the identity of the wines in the tasting, but their identities are masked; double-blind is when the identities are hidden and you don't know which wines are in the tasting.

Body Tasting
term describing the weight of the wine in the mouth. A full bodied wine will have good concentration, lots of alcohol and plenty of extract; a light bodied wine won't. The full bodied wines tend to get all the attention in big tasting events and competitions, even if they aren't the sort of wines you'd necessarily want to spend an evening with.

Bordeaux
Are you rich? Then you might like to explore Bordeaux, the world's most famous wine region and home to some of the world's most aristocratic wines. But you'll need to have deep pockets, because there is no getting round the fact that Bordeaux is expensive. The easiest way to understand Bordeaux is to split it into the left and right banks of the Gironde estuary, around which this huge region is arranged. On the left bank are the Médoc and Graves regions, which produce some of the most celebrated wines in the world from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. At the top of the price and quality pyramid are the classed growths from the appellations of St Julien, Pauillac, St Estèphe, Margaux, Pessac Léognan and Graves. On the right bank are found St Emilion and also the tiny appellation of Pomerol, which is home to super-expensive 'cult' wines such as Petrus, Lafleur and Le Pin. As if this was not enough, the Sauternes region, just south of the Médoc, produces stunning sweet white wines. However, fine wines such as these only represent a tiny proportion of the output of Bordeaux: as well as producing some of the world's greatest wines it also makes some of the worst. Each year a wine-lake full of thin, hard, miserable wines flows from many of the lesser properties, much of it finding its way onto supermarket shelves. The generally poor value for money of these wines has devalued the image of Bordeaux in the eyes of many consumers. In fact, it's hard work finding an interesting wine from Bordeaux that costs less than a tenner.

Botrytis
A fungus that infects grapes, causing them to rot. Scientific name Botrytis cinerea. If it attacks unripe or damaged grapes, it is a disaster. But this particular cloud has a silver lining. In certain wine regions, notably Sauternes in Bordeaux, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon of the Loire, Tokay in Hungary, Burgenland in Austria and various regions of Germany, Botrytis attacks ripe, healthy white grapes, causing them to shrivel. These disgusting, mouldy looking grapes yield small quantities of extremely concentrated juice that is then used to make sublime sweet white wines of great complexity and longevity. This benevolent form of Botrytis is also known as noble rot in English, pourriture noble in French and Edelfäule in German. What sort of flavours should you expect in a botrytized wine? There is often the tang of thick-cut marmalade, together with apricot-like flavours. The texture will be rich and viscous, and although the wine will be sweet, in good examples there will also be plenty of acidity to give balance. Because of the risk associated with producing these wines and the low yields involved, these wines will be expensive, but the Australians are now producing delicious, affordable botrytized wines from grapes that have artificially been seeded with fungal spores. Innovative, eh?

Brettanomyces
Have you ever had a wine that tasted of a mixture of farmyards, cheesy feet and animal poop? The chances are, this wine was infected by the yeast-like fungus Brettanomyces (often abbreviated to just 'brett'). It is often encountered in red wines from warm regions such as the South of France. In small doses can add complexity, but in higher concentrations is thought to be a fault. Once present in a winery Brettanomyces is quite difficult to remove.

Broad
A picture-language tasting term. In common with many descriptors for taste, it is hard to give a precise definition for this, but imagine a wine that has flavour and aroma elements that peak across the whole spectrum of tastes and smells, and you've got yourself a 'broad' wine.

Brut
French word meaning 'bone dry' in champagne. Not really used for other wines. (Don't splash it all over - keep it in the glass and enjoy.)

Bulgaria
The most export-focused of the ex-Eastern bloc countries, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon took the supermarkets by storm in the 1980s, offering juicy, blackcurrant-laced wines at bargain prices. The wine industry seemed to lose its way a bit after the collapse of Communism, but there are still plenty of value-for-money Bulgarian wines on the market, the reds in general being more successful than the whites.

Burgundy
One of the world's classic regions, the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but a total minefield for consumers. The heart of Burgundy, known as the Côte d'Or, is a narrow band of gentle hillside, encompassing some 60 small appellations. There are four different quality levels: regional (e.g. Bourgogne), village wines (e.g. Mersault, Santenay or Gevrey-Chambertin), premier cru and grand cru. But it is not as simple as this: because of French inheritance laws, vineyards are commonly divided into small plots, each worked by a different grower. To add to the confusion, some growers make their own wine, others sell their grapes to a négociant, and some négociants even have their own vineyard holdings. Because of the extreme variation in vineyard practice and winemaking competence, one vigneron's basic Bourgogne blanc may therefore be better than another's premier cru from a famous vineyard site. This is what is most infuriating about Burgundy: wines from the better vineyards are always expensive, but you may pay a lot of money and still get a poor wine. On the other hand, pay very little, and you'll certainly end up with a poor wine. The key to success in purchasing Burgundy is therefore knowing who the better producers are. At its best, white Burgundy is the greatest and most long-lived expression of the Chardonnay grape, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery, nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together. And Pinot Noir reaches its zenith in red Burgundy, making exotic, perfumed red wines commonly with hints of undergrowth or mushrooms. To the north of the Côte d'Or, lies the Chablis region, which makes lean, steely white wines of variable quality from the Chardonnay grape. To the south lies the Mâcon region, which is notable for its inexpensive and often good value crisp, lemony white wines, also made from Chardonnay.

Buttery
Taste term for the rich, creamy characters often found in barrel-fermented Chardonnay that has undergone malolactic fermentation.

Cabernet Franc
Where it comes from: French red grape from Bordeaux (where it usually plays an understudy role to Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Loire (where it stars on its own). Flavour profile: Raspberry and blackcurrant flavours are common, but the real giveaway is its distinctive leafy, grassy, herbaceous aroma. Where to find it: Recently discovered to be one of the parents of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, Cabernet Franc has for a long time lived in the shadow of its illustrious descendant. It is a common blending component of many Bordeaux wines, and is successful as a varietal red wine throughout the Loire Valley of France, most notably in the appellations of Chinon and Bourgeuil. Also common in the north-eastern Italian regions of Veneto and Fruili. Elsewhere it is grown in limited quantities in California, Australia and South Africa, where it is sometimes bottled on its own.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Where it comes from: The Manchester United of grapes, it's the world's most famous red grape variety, responsible for many of the planet's most well known wines. The traditional home of Cabernet Sauvignon is the Bordeaux region of France, and recent research has shown that its parents are Cabernet Franc and (rather surprisingly) Sauvignon Blanc. Its thick skins and high pip-to-pulp ratio help it to make deeply coloured, tannic and often long-lived wines. Flavour profile: Think Cabernet Sauvignon, think blackcurrants. You may also pick up flavours of green peppers, cedar, mint, menthol, chocolate, herbs and chewy tannins, depending on how the wine was made and where it came from. Where to find it: A great traveller, Cabernet Sauvignon can make full flavoured red wines just about anywhere grapes can be grown. As a result, it has been enthusiastically planted throughout the wine world. Outside Bordeaux, it is planted widely in other French regions, notably in Bergerac, the Languedoc and Provence. In California it is the dominant red grape, often excelling to make superb but stratospherically priced wines in Napa and Sonoma. In Italy, it does particularly well in Tuscany as a key component of the highly sought-after 'supertuscan' wines. Cabernet Sauvignon vies with Shiraz as Australia's most successful red variety. Chile has many thousands of hectares of ungrafted Cabernet Sauvignon, where it produces wines with pure, exuberant blackcurrant fruit. Argentina, South Africa, Eastern Europe and the CIS also rely on Cabernet to produce some of their best wines.

California
It is easy to forget that as recently as 1933, Prohibition was still in place in the USA. Since then, California has made tremendous strides and was the first of the New World wine regions to compete with the classic French regions both in terms of quality, and more recently price. Most wines are labelled according to the variety, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel (California's 'own' grape variety) and Merlot are the main red grapes, and Chardonnay is the key white. Of the various wine regions (now more than 20), Napa and Sonoma lead the quality stakes, but are being challenged by upcoming regions such as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley. In contrast, the hot Central Valley produces enormous volumes of dull jug wine. Because of the strong domestic demand and the fact that American wine geeks are usually quite wealthy, the best Californian wines are hard to obtain and inevitably expensive. In fact, the leading Californian Cabernets now cost more than first growth Bordeaux, and the top Chardonnays match the prices of their counterparts in Burgundy. From the consumer's point of view, this is unfortunate, because the quality is often superb.

Carbonic maceration
Process widely used in Beaujolais where uncrushed grapes are allowed to begin fermentation in a protective atmosphere of CO2. What happens is that the largely intact grapes begin fermenting inside their own skins, which produces light, fruity reds for early drinking. Now commonly used throughout the world to make gluggable red wines with lots of fruit and not too much tannin.

Carignan
Where it comes from: This is Southern France's workhorse red grape, used to make largely unremarkable table wines. Flavour profile: Mostly dull. Makes low aroma reds that are high in acid, colour and tannin, with earthy, raspberry and peppery flavours. Where to find it: The most prevalent grape in the Languedoc-Roussillon, it is also grown extensively in Spain (known there as Cariñena and Mazuelo), California, North Africa, South Africa, Chile and Italy. Wines made from old, low yielding Carignan vines can be interesting, and some of the best come from the Priorat region in Catalonia. Cava Spanish fizz made using the traditional champagne method. Rarely excites, but can offer good value for money.

Cedar
A taste term. Mature Bordeaux often smells of cedar wood.

Cencibel
See Tempranillo.

Chaptalization
Slightly naughty winemaking trick in which the alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of sugar to crushed grapes before fermentation takes place. Can be useful if your grapes aren't ripe enough. In France it occurs commonly in Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Alsace and Burgundy, although the best producers will often shun this practice. Named after the Frenchman who invented the process, Jean-Antione Chaptal.

Chardonnay
Where it comes from: International superstar. The world's most famous white wine grape hails from the Burgundy region in France, where it makes some of the planet's most complex, full flavoured and expensive white wines. The secret to Chardonnay's success is its versatility. Grown just about everywhere, it adapts well to different climates and winemaking techniques to produce wines in a whole range of styles. Budding historians will be interested to know that recent evidence shows that Chardonnay arose from an ancient cross between the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc varieties. Flavour profile: From cooler regions it has a delicate texture, with flavours of lemons, green apples and sometimes even grapefruit. In warmer regions, it gives rich flavours of tropical fruit, pineapples and peaches. When the wines are oaked these characters may be combined with buttery, toasty and nutty elements. Where to find it: Although it's everywhere, it is worth bearing in mind that Chardonnay mania is a fairly recent phenomenon. For example, in Australia and California, where it is now so successful, it barely existed before the 1980s. It also does well in New Zealand, Chile, northeastern Italy, Austria and South Africa. Outside Burgundy, Chardonnay is one of the three key grapes used to make Champagne, and it is also increasingly common in the Languedoc.

Chenin Blanc
Where it comes from: Versatile white grape from the Loire Valley of France. Flavour profile: Can be bone dry to very sweet, with flavours of honey, wet wool and pears. Where to find it: In the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc excels in the appellations of Vouvray and Montlouis to produce white wines ranging from dry to sweet, with good balancing acidity. It also makes the complex sweet wines of Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeux and Quarts de Chaume, which are often botrytised. In the new world, Chenin Blanc is usually less distinguished, being used to make fresh, dry white wines. In this guise it is South Africa's most widely planted grape variety, and is also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand.

Chile
Are you looking for attractive, fruity wines with bags of fruit, but at budget prices? Chile could be the place for you. Chile's speciality is inexpensive but flavour-filled wines from the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These are now rapidly filling up the supermarket shelves in the wake of the Aussie wines that have recently moved to a higher price bracket. At the high end, more ambitious Chilean producers have tried to compete in the fine wine market by making aspiring, high-end wines, but while these display stunning fruit intensity they seem to lack some of the complexity of the established old-world classics. The key wine regions include Maipo, Rapel, Curicó, Maule and trendy cool-climate Casablanca.

Classed growth
A literal translation from the French term, cru classé, that describes a property or Château included in the famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux, and the subsequent reclassifications that have occurred since. There are five different tiers to this classification: the first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths. These are the aristocratic wines of Bordeaux, and command high prices.

Closed
A wine that doesn't smell of much. Many fine wines go through a 'closed' or 'dumb' period as part of their development.

Cold maceration
See Maceration

Cold Stabilization
See Tartaric Acid

Corked
Have you ever opened a bottle, and instead of clean, fruity aromas found that it smells of mouldy cellars and damp cardboard? This is what a corked wine smells like. Contrary to popular opinion a corked wine is not one that has bits of cork floating in it (this is totally harmless, fish the bits out and the wine will be fine); instead, it is a wine that has been contaminated by a chemical called trichloroanisole (TCA). The human nose is extremely sensitive to this contaminant (it can be detected at concentrations as low as parts per trillion!), which is a result of a chemical reaction between chlorine and cork. It is a major problem, spoiling between 1% and 7% of all wines, depending on who you listen to. This is why artificial corks are increasingly being used, especially on inexpensive wines not destined for ageing. The degree of cork-taint can vary, but you'll find that almost all retailers will replace a corked bottle without question if you return it.

Côte
French term for 'slope'.

Cru
French term for vineyard, often translated as growth.

Decanting
Transferring a wine from its bottle to another container, most commonly a decanter. There are two main reasons for decanting. First, bottle-aged red wines commonly have a lot of crud at the bottom, and careful decanting separates this from the wine. Second, decanting exposes the wine to air - lets it 'breathe' - which may or may not allow the wine to express itself more fully. Received wisdom states that tannic young wines 'open out' (smell better) when they are decanted, although attempts to demonstrate this effect in blind tastings have largely been unsuccessful. Still, whether or not decanting is beneficial for a wine, the whole ceremony is immensely satisfying and probably worth doing just for the fun of it.

Demi-sec
French for medium dry

Eiswein
A German oddity made by crushing frozen grapes that have been deliberately left on the vine until winter, when they are picked on the first really freezing night. The juice that is released is super-concentrated and the resulting wines are extremely sweet. Because of the extreme hassle required to make these wines, they are vastly expensive. Making eiswein is seen as the pinnacle of the producer's art: a sort of winemakers pissing contest. Note that unlike most other expensive dessert wines, the grapes used will not have been affected by noble rot.

En primeur
Selling method in which substantial amounts of the output from the leading Bordeaux properties (notably the classed growths) are offered for sale before they have even been bottled, in the summer following the vintage. Buying en primeur is often the only way to get hold of sought-after wines from good vintages at anything like a reasonable price; otherwise the advantage of tying up your money in wines you have never tasted and which you won't see for two years is less clear.

Extract
Technically, this refers to the amount of dissolved solid material in a wine. In tasting, a concentrated red, with a big structure might be described as 'highly extracted': wines that are so dense that you could eat them with a spoon. 'Over-extracted' is used as a criticism of a wine where the winemaker has tried just a bit too hard and made a clumsy finished product.

Fermentation
Yeasts do a really useful job: they eat up sugar in grape juice and excrete alcohol. This is called fermentation, and without it all wine would be sweet and alcohol-free. Just like grape juice.

Filtration
The removal of suspended solid particles in a wine by passing it through a filter. It can be a useful alternative to allowing the solid particles to settle naturally, thereby speeding up the winemaking process, or it can be used in cases where the wine won't clear naturally. But it is a controversial practice. Opponents to filtration claim that it strips out some of the flavour, and marketing people consequently use the term 'unfiltered' to help sell wines that haven't been treated in this way. Is filtration always bad, though? Like many winemaking decisions, it's a question of balance. Sometimes filtration is necessary, sometimes it isn't.

Fining
A process used to remove suspended solids from a wine in order to make it 'clear'. Fining agents include dried blood, casein, clay and egg whites. As you can guess, some of these substances can cause problems for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers.

Finish
A much-abused tasting term. It refers to the flavours left in the mouth after you have swallowed or spat out a mouthful of wine. For example, a finish can be alcoholic, bitter, hot, dry, acidic, short or long. But some people take the concept too far: examples exist where tasters have timed the 'finish' of a wine in seconds. This is absurd.

Fino
A dry, light style of sherry that has a distinctive salty, tangy flavour that comes from being aged under a layer of yeast cells, called a 'flor'. Although these are usually 15% alcohol or above, they make quite good food wines due to their dry, savoury character. But beware a bottle of fino that has been sitting opened in Auntie's sideboard for four months: this style needs to be drunk young, and once opened a bottle must be treated in the same way as any dry white wine. You'd also be well advised to avoid a fino sherry that's been sitting around on a merchant's shelf for six months. Manzanilla is very similar in style to fino; perhaps a little fresher and saltier.

First growths
The five elite properties of the Medoc and Graves regions of Bordeaux: Latour, Lafite, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild and Margaux, which were picked out as 'Premier Cru Classé' in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification (actually, Mouton Rothschild was promoted from a second growth in the 1970s). These wines have an iconic status, and they are horribly expensive.

Flabby
A word used to describe a wine that doesn't have enough acidity to balance the other elements. Buttery Chardonnays with rich tropical fruit flavours from warm-climate regions are most likely to show this sort of character, especially if they are a few years old.

Flinty
Next time you are taking a stroll through chalk downland, reach down and pick up two mid-sized flints. Bang them together hard, and take a sniff: this is the smell that in wines is referred to as 'flinty', and it's often used to describe young Chablis.

Flying winemakers
Much-maligned breed of mainly Australian winemakers who, in their off season, fly off to somewhere in Europe and make wine the 'new world' way out of the indigenous grapes of the region. Beloved by supermarket wine buyers, they often produce clean, fruity, unexciting but inexpensive wines. Traditionalist view them with disdain as cultural imperialists.

Fortified
Port and sherry are the two most famous fortified wines. With Port, grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment a bit, and then spirit is added to produce a sweet, alcoholic wine. With sherry, fermentation is completed and then spirit is added.

Free-run juice
This is a bit of a technical term that sometimes appears on wine labels. When grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice that drains from the unpressed grapes is called free-run juice, and typically constitutes about two-thirds of the total juice the grapes will yield. It is usually better quality than the stuff that is later pressed out of the mush of crushed grapes.

Fresh
Tasting term for a wine (usually white) that is clean, possibly aromatic, light bodied and with good acidity. The sort of wine that you'd want to chill down and glug on a summer's day.

Fruity
Technically, grapes are a fruit. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some wines are described as fruity. Modern winemaking techniques help bring out the fruit character in wines that previously would have been much less attractive.

Gamay
Where it comes from: The red grape of Beaujolais. Flavour profile: Makes juicy, fruity red wines with flavours of cherries, sometimes with a rubbery edge and hints of bananas. Where to find it: Seldom encountered outside Beaujolais, it is also grown in the Mâcon region, the Loire (Anjou and Touraine) and California.

Gamey
Imprecise taste term usually reserved for older wines that exhibit smells and flavours associated with damp undergrowth, mushrooms, well hung pheasants and unwashed farmers' feet.

Germany
German wines have got a grotty image in the UK, and this doesn't look like it will change in the near future. This is largely due to Germany's main export of huge volumes of sugar-water, Liebfraumilch, made from the high cropping but dull Müller-Thurgau grape variety -- real Alan Partridge stuff. This is a shame, because the better German wines, made from one of the world's great white grape varieties, Riesling, offer wonderfully fresh, intense citrus flavours, often with a touch of sweetness to counter the naturally high acidity. Another potential obstacle to the consumer is decoding the labels, which often have a bewildering array of impossibly long German words on them. The four key components are the quality level (Tafelwein, Landwein, QbA, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese), the producer (they vary in quality), the region and the grape variety (Riesling is the one to watch out for): it's all very complicated.

Gewürztraminer
Where it comes from: Pink-skinned grape from Alsace in France, where it is the second most planted grape. Flavour profile: Aromatic, musky, floral white wines with bold flavours of lychees and spice. Where to find it: The best examples come from Alsace, but it's also grown with mixed results in Germany, Austria, Australia, South Africa and the USA.

Glasses
This may sound a bit fussy, but using the correct style of glass is really important if you want to get the most from your wine. The basic requirements are that the bowl should be big enough that there's enough room above the wine for the aromas to be captured, and that the rim is of a smaller diameter than the widest part of the bowl - a tulip shape is ideal. The thinner the rim, the better. The most famous manufacturer of glasses is the Austrian firm Riedel: they make a whole range of glasses, each supposed to be optimized for a certain wine style, but all fiendishly expensive. Fortunately there are good, cheaper alternatives.

Grauerburgunder
See Pinot Gris

Greece
Mention Greek wine and people chuckle about their bad experiences with Retsina. But this is unfair. Greek wines are undergoing a renaissance, and as a holidaymaker you'll be presently surprised to find that even the dingiest tavernas now sometimes serve fresh, crisp white wines and fruity, herby reds in a very modern style. There are also a number of ambitious producers making some interesting wines that are now finding their way onto the UK market.

Green
A negative tasting term for a wine that tastes youthful, unripe, raw and acidic. A good example of a 'green' wine would be a cheap Loire red from a mediocre vintage such as 1998, or just about any supermarket Claret costing under £4. Why the term 'green'? Well, just imagine taking a fresh green leaf and chewing on it - these are the sorts of flavours you'll get.

Grenache
Where it comes from: Popular red grape from the South of France and Spain (where it is known as Garnacha). It does particularly well in hot, dry climates and is the world's second most planted variety. Flavour profile: Makes light-coloured wines high in alcohol and with rich, peppery fruit and spicy cinnamon notes. Where to find it: Considering it's so common, it's surprisingly rarely encountered as a single varietal. Grenache is the main grape of wines such as Côtes du Rhône, Châteaneuf du Pape and Gigondas, and is a key blending component in many Languedoc reds. It's widely grown in many Spanish regions, where it is the most planted red grape. There's also a lot of it in Australia and California, where it is often used to make inexpensive quaffing wines.

Herbaceous
Next time you mow the lawn or trim your hedge, take a good sniff of the cuttings. The neighbours may think you're crazy, but the smell you'll pick up, which is usually described as herbaceous, is commonly found in red wines, especially those made from slightly unripe Cabernet Franc or Merlot grapes. It doesn't sound very appealing, but herbaceousness in a wine is not necessarily a fault, unless it is so prominent that it becomes out of balance. You'd be most likely to encounter this odour in full bodied Loire reds (they are made from Cabernet Franc), inexpensive Chilean Merlot (the expensive stuff is usually riper and thus doesn't display so much herbaceousness) or any cheap Claret with a reasonable proportion of Merlot in the blend.

Hermitage
This small (126 Ha) hillside appellation in the Northern Rhône region of France is famous for being the home of the Syrah grape (aka Shiraz). Because the wines are usually of high quality and very little is made, they are invariably expensive. These dense, perfumed red wines need years to reach their best, and from a good vintage they'll go on improving for decades. A little bit of white wine is made from Marsanne and Roussane, and these can also be very long-lived.

Hogshead
Another name for a small oak barrel (see barrique), used to ferment or mature wines in.

Hungary
A country with a great wine tradition, and home to one of the world's classic wine styles, the botrytised dessert wine Tokaji (or Tokay), which is currently undergoing a renaissance spurred by foreign investors. However, the Hungarian wines you will most likely to encounter will be the increasing band of inexpensive varietal wines, often made by flying winemakers, that line the supermarket shelves. Quality is a bit patchy, but there are some bargains to be had.

Irrigation
Grape vines need water, and if there isn't enough of it in the environment, it is necessary to supply this artificially, by irrigation. Although it is frowned upon (and often illegal) in many European wine regions, used carefully it can be used in the production of high quality wines.

Italy
One of the world's great wine nations, Italy produces more wine than any other country, and the thirsty Italians also drink more wine than anyone except the French. From the north to the south, Italy has a profusion of wine regions, each of quite different character. Indeed, the myriad of unfamiliar grape varieties, wine styles and regions can appear confusing to the uninitiated. The northern region of Piedmont makes Italy's most long lived and expensive red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, from the Nebbiolo grape. This region is also responsible for tasty and more affordable reds from the Barbera and Dolcetto grapes. In the north east, the Veneto region churns out lots of Valpolicella (a light, cherry-laced red) and Soave (crisp, often watery white), as well as some intriguing wine made by part drying the grapes before fermentation (Amarone and Recioto). In the centre, Tuscany is home to Chianti (variable quality reds made primarily from Sangiovese), Chianti Classico (much more consistent), Brunello di Montalcino (rare, expensive reds from a special strain of Sangiovese) and the 'Supertuscans' (high-end, aspiring wines made largely from non-local grape varieties). But perhaps the best value for money in Italian wine is to be found in the new wave of wines coming from the southern regions of Puglia, Sardinia and Sicily.

Jammy
A negative tasting term. It's good for wines to be fruity, but jammy wines are those that taste of baked, cooked or stewed fruit, which is unappealing. This usually happens when grapes have been grown in areas which are just too warm for that particular variety. You'll most likely find this in wines made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in hot climate regions, which invariably have a jammy character.

Jeroboam
An enormous bottle holding 4.5 litres in Bordeaux (that's the equivalent to six normal bottles) or 3 litres in Champagne (four bottles' worth). Either way, you'll probably need to invite some friends round to help you drink it!

Lagar
Plural 'lagares'. A shallow stone trough traditionally used for the foot-treading of grapes. They are still in use in some regions of the Douro, in Portugal. In Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine there is a wonderful old picture of some chaps crushing grapes in a lagar without a stitch of clothing on. I believe they wear shorts these days.

Lambrusco
An instant turn-off to most aspiring wine geeks. Supermarket Lambrusco is usually a semi-sweet, bland, fizzy concoction, low in alcohol and designed to appeal to those who don't really like wine: yours for £2.29. You probably didn't know this, but Lambrusco is actually a red Italian grape variety, and the best examples are dry, slightly fizzy, rustic red wines with high acidity, best with food. Anyone with an interest in wine should shun the standardized white alcopop Lambrusco, and seek out the traditional styles.

Languedoc
Traditionally the region that made the largest contribution to the European wine lake, churning out millions of litres of inexpensive table wine. Over the last couple of decades, things have begun to change, and many producers have begun to shift their focus from quantity to quality. The best wines are made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes, and sub-regions such as Faugères, Pic St Loup, Montpeyroux, Minervois, St Chinian and Corbières are leading the field in terms of quality. The best producers make robust, full-flavoured earthy red wines that offer good value for money.

Late harvest
If you see a wine labelled as 'late harvest' it means that the grapes were harvested later than normal, and thus with a higher sugar level. The wine will probably be quite sweet, although in some cases may have been fermented to dryness, in which case the potential alcohol will be higher. The French term for this is 'vendange tardive', in German it is 'spätlese'. Laying down Rather quaint term for cellaring wine, referring to the fact that bottles to be kept must be stored on their side in order to keep the cork moist.

Lean
Tasting term referring to a wine that has high acidity and not much fruit.

Leathery
Dreadfully subjective red wine descriptor that's really hard to pin a definition on. In some cases this will refer to the texture of the wine, indicating that a wine is tough and chewy, but in others it may be used to describe a wine that smells of old leather. Who's to know which?

Lees
The gunk that settles at the bottom of a fermentation or ageing vessel. This consists of dead yeast cells, grape skin fragments and other insoluble material, and if the wine is left on the lees for a while, it can encourage malolactic fermentation and add complexity to a wine. If you want to get really technical about this, there are two sorts of lees. The initial gunk that is deposited is quite crude and is called the gross lees. The wine is usually racked off this into a fresh container, in which it will deposit what are known as fine lees. You don't want to leave a wine on its gross lees for very long (and you certainly don't want to do lees stirring with the gross lees), because this may result in the dead yeast cells dissolving themselves, producing a reductive environment in which any sulphur traces will result in the development of hydrogen sulphide, which reeks of rotten eggs and worse.

Lees stirring
A snazzy winemaking trick in which the gunk at the bottom of a barrel is wiggled around with a stick (hence the French term for this, bâttonage). It is usually reserved for white wines that have been barrel-fermented, and can add a creamy richness and complexity to the wine.

Loire
This large region in Northern France is a source of diverse and fascinating wines, and because it is overlooked by most wine lovers, prices are very reasonable. Reds, mainly from Cabernet Franc, can be an acquired taste, but the varied styles of white wines from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are often stunning. Arranged along the course of the Loire river, starting from the West the region encompasses the appellations Muscadet (bone dry, acidic whites), Anjou, Coteaux du Layon (sweet Chenin blanc-based whites, often with botrytis), Samur, Bourgueil (lean, herbaceous reds), Chinon (leafy, raspberry-laced reds), Vouvray (Chenin blanc-based whites, ranging from bone dry to sweet and botrytised), Touraine (racy, inexpensive Sauvignon blanc), Sancerre (classic bone dry whites from Sauvignon blanc) and Pouilly-Fumé (bone dry, aromatic Sauvignon blanc). There are also a host of smaller subregions, each making their own styles of wine.

Long or length
One of the most widely abused wine tasting terms. Technically, a wine with good 'length' is one whose flavour persists in the mouth. In practice, some tasters use a judgement of 'length' as an addendum to their tasting notes to reinforce their preferences and prejudices. Thus a diehard claret drinker of the old school may finish his tasting note on his favourite classed growth with the words, 'Displays great length'. The same taster, describing a top-notch Californian Cabernet may end his note with, 'Finishes a bit short'.

Luncheon claret
When someone uses this term, what they're trying to say is, 'I'm fabulously wealthy'. Heck, I can hardly afford claret with dinner.

Maceration
Red winemaking process in which tannins, pigments and flavour compounds are released from the grape skins in the fermentation vessel. Fermentation is usually over pretty quickly with red wines, so many winemakers like to leave the wine in contact with the skins for longer; this is known as extended maceration and results in deeper coloured wines. Even flashier is the process called cold maceration, in which grape skins and juice are held at low temperature, to delay the start of fermentation, while allowing the extraction to proceed on its own. The deeper colour and enhanced structure that results from extended maceration must be weighed against the risk of extracting bitter or unpleasant compounds from the grape skins -- known in the trade as 'over-extraction'. See also carbonic maceration.

Machine harvesting
Does exactly what it says on the tin - mechanical harvesters pass through the rows of vines literally beating the individual grapes off the vines with rubber paddles, which are then collected and separated from the non-grape material for transport back to the winery. It may not be as romantic as teams of pickers working their way through the vines, but in relatively remote regions of Australia and New Zealand, where casual labour is scarce, it is the only way to pick the grapes. There are two other advantages: harvesting can be done quickly when the grapes are at peak ripeness, and in hot regions it means the grapes can be picked at night, to preserve their freshness.

Magnum
A big bottle that holds 1.5 litres of wine, equivalent to two full bottles. Rather fun, and wine in magnums is supposed to age better than in standard 75 cl bottles.

Malbec
Where it comes from: The red grape of the Cahors region of France, but which works to best effect in its adopted home of Argentina. Flavour profile: Dense, chunky wines with flavours of plums, blackcurrants and tobacco. Where to find it: In France, Malbec is only widely grown in Cahors, although it is also traditionally one of grapes used to make red Bordeaux. In Argentina, Malbec takes a starring role, and does brilliantly, making dense, chunky reds full of interest. Malbec is also common in Chile. Malic acid An acid found in high concentrations in unripe grapes, it has a tart, sharp flavour. It is lost as the grapes ripen, which is one reason why wines from very warm climates often have a low natural acidity and can taste flabby. It is also lost through malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process.

Malolactic fermentation
The conversion of the tart, sharp malic acid into the softer, less harsh lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria, which takes place after alcoholic fermentation. An important winemaking decision in the production of white wines is whether to allow this to take place, and if so, to what degree. A Chardonnay that has had full malolactic fermentation (known in the trade simply as 'malo') will taste soft and buttery; one which has had no or only partial malo will be crisper and fresher, with sharp lemony acidity.